Possession Clock Provides First Advantage for Defenders

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

The Stony Brook defense forced Towson to turn the ball over as the possession clock expired, which ultimately led to the Seawolves' game-winning goal with four seconds remaining on the game clock.


Many fans, especially those new to the sport, would typically describe women’s lacrosse as an attacker’s game. Highlight-reel goals appear on ESPN. The final score of every game is the end all, be all.

But for the first time in recent years, in which rules changes like self-starts and three seconds as a major foul have benefitted offenses, Duke coach Kerstin Kimel and Stony Brook coach Joe Spallina say the defense finally has an advantage.

Just one week into the NCAA women’s lacrosse season, it appears that the stall is gone thanks to the 90-second possession clock introduced at the Division I level this season. Perhaps, even, defenders will move more into the spotlight for end-of-year honors, especially the prestigious Tewaaraton Award, won by just one defender in the award’s 16-year history.

“It may be one of the first times in our game where there’s an edge to the defense,” Kimel said. “As someone who was more of a defensive player in college, I think that’s pretty cool to be able to see the defenders making some plays.”

Gone are defenders playing for 10 minutes straight. Gone are attackers resting on offense.

“That era is probably gone,” Spallina said. “People thought fall was great, but it’s a different animal when you’re playing for keeps.”

As the Division I season gets into full swing (Division II and III will implement the possession clock in 2018), the notion that the clock wouldn’t change much is slowly disappearing.

Coaches downplayed the clock's effect during fall ball. Yet both Duke and Stony Brook opened the season with wins featuring game-changing plays resulting directly from it.

Duke escaped Drexel 9-7, taking 22 shots, many of which were forced, especially in the first half, with players pushing the tempo and rushing to hit the first option as the clock wound down. But in exciting fashion, graduate student Jessie Ambrose, a Columbia transfer, recorded her first goal as a Blue Devil – and the eventual game-winner – with just a couple seconds left on the possession clock in the second half.

“Drexel played a zone and, in essence, dropped everybody back into the 8-meter area right away, which limited our looks and transitions,” Kimel said. “We certainly did a better job in the second half. We settled down and realized 90 seconds is a long time.”

Stony Brook won their first game against Towson, 10-9, on Kylie Ohlmiller’s game-winning goal with four seconds left. Preceding that, with 1:53 remaining, the Tigers won the draw, but failed to get a shot off before the possession clock expired. The Seawolves were awarded possession with 17 seconds left, then earned a free position after a successful clear – the attack had a head start on Drexel downfield – and saw the game-winner seal the deal.

“You try to match up the time in the game situation and how many possessions are left in a game,” Spallina said. “They had won the last draw and there was over 90 seconds remaining, so we had a feeling that they would try to hold it, which they did. The defensive call was to make it difficult for them to get behind the cage, especially when they got into [what we call] red, which is basically under 20 seconds.”

With the possession clock comes new strategies to coach and play the game, increasing lacrosse IQ. Spallina’s staff recorded stats specific to the possession clock – turnovers above 20 seconds, turnovers between 20 and 10 seconds remaining, and turnovers under 10 seconds. He identified 20 seconds as the time frame when most turnovers happened, leading him to ultimately wish for a 60-second shot clock in the future, while also understanding that 90 seconds is currently necessary for teams “to buy in.”

However, turnovers due to possession clock violations are not recorded in box scores. It simply would list a turnover, as it did for Towson’s Kaitlyn Montalbano. But Kimel argues that it should be a team turnover.

“That’s an important stat in my mind,” Kimel said. “I would think it’s a team turnover versus an individual turnover, because it’s not one person’s fault that the group didn’t get a shot off. It’s not listed anywhere formally. That’s something that needs to change.”

Overall, however, both Kimel and Spallina are in favor of the possession clock. It allows for more possessions, which in turn creates more opportunities to score, turn the ball over, make saves and record defensive stops.

Another benefit is the game becoming more viewer-friendly. It can become a “track meet,” said Kimel, though she also worries zone defenses can be “boring” because it then becomes a game of catch on the perimeter.

But, simply, the possession clock adds excitement.

“There’s so much value to what the rules committee did and the sport will forever be grateful for it because the game’s just better,” Spallina said. “It’s real lacrosse. Teams are forced to play.”







MCCOOL SCHOOLED DUKES

North Carolina junior Marie McCool, one of just two current collegians on the U.S. women’s national team set to compete at the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Cup this summer in England, was named the first Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Offensive Player of the Week for 2017 with her career-high six-goal performance, including the game-winner, in the Tar Heels’ 16-14 win over James Madison.

The Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Player of the Year also added two assists for eight points, as well as five draw controls, three caused turnovers and one ground ball against the Dukes.

Since her freshman year, McCool has impressed Levy.

“I was really impressed with her poise, skill and IQ on the field against top competition,” Levy said before last season, noting McCool should be a Tewaaraton candidate. “She made the U.S. team this summer after only her freshman season, which is a nice honor indicative of her talent and hard work. I just think she’s one of those players who is an X-factor. She’s got such a high ceiling and has a real opportunity to be a dominant player.”

Stay tuned for more of McCool’s dominance this spring.

WEISSE SHINES FOR WILDCATS

Northwestern sophomore goalie Mallory Weisse, a U.S. under-19 silver medalist in 2015, was named the first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week with 16 saves in two wins over Canisius and Notre Dame.

Her 10 stops against the Irish, including eight in the second half, for the 14-13 win could be a sign of Weisse’s ability to be the netminder the Wildcats need this season.

After teetering on the edge in 2016 with an 11-10 record, Weisse will need to step up her performance, according to one rival coach who participated in an anonymous poll for the Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20. She had a 41.9 save percentage as a rookie last year.

“Still need to do something about that defense, and who will make saves for them?” the coach said, reviewing the 2016 season.

Weisse leads a defense that has five underclassmen (two freshmen) and five upperclassmen, which combined for just 36 of 252 starts in 2016.

MARYLAND TEAMS JOIN FORCES

For the first time since 2007, Maryland women’s lacrosse will compete at Maryland Stadium, formerly known as Byrd Stadium, on Saturday, Feb. 25, the university announced earlier this week.

The women will follow the Maryland men in back-to-back lacrosse competition on Capital One Field. The men will face Yale at noon, while the women will play top-ranked North Carolina in an NCAA championship game rematch at 3 p.m. On March 24, 2007, the Maryland women also squared off with the Tar Heels in then-Byrd Stadium.

GAMES TO WATCH

Three Top 20 matches take place this weekend, all on Saturday (all times Eastern):

No. 1 North Carolina at No. 5 Florida, 12 p.m.

The defending champions will have their work cut out for them. After taking the U.S. women’s national team down to the wire in a 20-19 loss at the Team USA Spring Premiere, the Gators are looking to kick off their season with a bang.

No. 18 Boston College at No. 6 Syracuse, 12 p.m.

A lot of question marks surrounded Syracuse after graduating three-time Tewaaraton winner Kayla Treanor, but the Orange started the season strong with convincing wins over Holy Cross and No. 20 UMass. Boston College will be looking to avenge its ACC tournament loss last year after beating the Orange during the regular season.

No. 17 Towson at No. 7 Penn State, 1 p.m.

After a nailbiter against top-five team in Stony Brook, Towson is bound to rebound. A one-goal loss won’t hold the Tigers back, but Penn State is currently on a tear after dominating Albany 20-9 on Saturday. 

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